Excellent analysis on the Anglican ‘annus horribilis’ from David over at the VirtueOnline website.
2009: The Anglican Year of Living Dangerously
It was a year of turmoil and upheaval that included two resolutions on sexuality passed at The Episcopal Church’s 76th annual General Convention that promise to further isolate The Episcopal Church from the Anglican mainstream. It was the year the birth took place of a new Anglican province on North American soil; a lesbian was elected bishop in an ultra-liberal Episcopal diocese; litigation increased over property in the US and Canada; a pope offered a “safe haven” for traditionalist Anglicans across the world; and a Covenant was finalized that many believe holds little promise of keeping an increasingly feuding and fractured communion together.
Queen Elizabeth II made famous the phrase “annus horribilis” to describe her own personal travails in 1992. Dr. Rowan Williams might well echo those two words as he looks back on the year that has passed from the walls of Lambeth Palace. His personal cry might well be, “Nevertheless, let this cup pass from me….”
The Anglican Communion followed the bell curve of a worldwide economic recession with its own spiritual and ecclesiastical recession. The Episcopal Church’s $141 million budget (down some $23 million and possibly more), described by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as “death”, was reflected in church program and budget cuts that saw 37 of its 180 staff eliminated. If TEC were a publicly traded company, it would be a penny stock bearing in mind that its 109 dioceses failed to show any growth (with the notable exception of South Carolina) with diocese after diocese reporting lost income, closing parishes and aging congregants. Some experienced added legal costs fighting to retain properties.
With no discernible gospel to proclaim, there seems little likelihood that the lost ground will ever be made up. Couple that with the increasing flight of mega evangelical parishes from both liberal and orthodox dioceses, the church seems bent on isolating and destroying the very wing that can make it grow. Millions of dollars were racked up in legal fees as orthodox parishes from coast to coast fled their revisionist task masters, at the same time pushing their ownership claims from local courts to ever higher courts in the hopes they might be vindicated.
All Saints’ Pawleys Island claimed victory over the Diocese of South Carolina. A dozen orthodox parishes in the Diocese of Virginia seem ready to run up the victory flag as they win one legal battle after another in their desire to keep their properties. But cases in Southern California, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania moved in the opposite direction with the diocese and national church claiming victory. The Dennis Canon seems invulnerable to legal challenge it would seem. Three whole dioceses still remain in legal limbo ready to do battle in 2010, promising a legal blood bath. The battle for the Diocese of Ft. Worth promises to be the bloodiest.
One attorney privately admitted to VOL that when all is said and done (and no one knows when that will be as new property battles erupt almost weekly), the total legal bill for both sides could be well over $100 million. The Diocese of Colorado spent over $3 million out of its treasury to go after Fr. Don Armstrong while his side spent over $1 million. Extrapolate that out in some 60 lawsuits and it doesn’t take brain surgery to know where “mission” money is being spent. The enormously well-endowed Church Pension Fund failed to give a cost of living increase, leaving one to wonder it the church isn’t self destructing in its sexual obsessions.
The ecclesiastical rough housing began in February when the Primates met in Alexandria, Egypt. The Windsor Continuation Group Report asked the obvious question as to whether the Anglican Communion suffers from an “ecclesial deficit.” In other words, do we have the necessary theological, structural and cultural foundations to sustain the life of the Communion? The primates argued that they needed “to move to communion with autonomy and accountability” and to develop the capacity to address divisive issues in a timely and effective way, while learning “the responsibilities and obligations of interdependence”. Of course asking the obvious question does not guarantee getting the obvious answer.
At the end, the meeting proved a bust. Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone told VOL that the orthodox Primates had a peace and clarity about them. Then he said, “The liberal expression of the faith hasn’t got life and truth. We were all agreed. There are two very different understandings of the Christian Faith now living together, indeed at war with one another in the Anglican Communion and the situation has no long term resolution. It would take a miracle to keep it together and Dr. Rowan Williams understands that. He will try and keep it together for as long as he can under his watch.” It was a truthful but sad indictment on the state of affairs in the Anglican Communion. As the year progressed events only got worse.
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), aka as the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), met in May in Jamaica to hammer out a draft for an Anglican Communion Covenant, in particular, the Ridley Cambridge Draft, and also to appoint a small working group to consider and consult with the Provinces on section 4 and its possible revision, and to report to the next meeting of the Joint Standing Committee. What took place in Jamaica had little to do with property, ecclesiology or theology. It had everything to do with politics. The political maneuvering saw Archbishop Williams personally intervening four times. In the end, over massive objections from liberal archbishops and others, the ABC was asked to appoint a small working group to consider and consult with the provinces on Section 4. The ABC urged delegates not to “put off discussion of the covenant simply because of that detail we are finalizing.”
As they departed, Williams mournfully noted that there “may or may not be lasting division” in the Communion. “Before we say goodbye to each other in the Communion, we owe it to the Lord of the Church to have those conversations and to undertake that effort at listening to one another and taking one another seriously in the gospel.”
“Have we manufactured a large stone called ‘an Anglican covenant’ that will seal off creative, faithful life in the communion?” asked ACC chairman and Diocese of Auckland Bishop John Paterson, referring to the stone closing off Jesus’ tomb and the council’s work on the proposed Anglican covenant, in his sermon at the ACC’s closing Eucharist. “I trust not.”
In late May, VOL broke the news that The Rev. Thew Forrester would not be the next Bishop of Northern Michigan. Some 50 bishops and 52 Standing Committees who gave him the thumbs down believed that the single candidate, though elected by his diocese, practiced Buddhism, which informed his Christian teaching. He also confirmed that that his congregation often used locally written Eucharistic rites rather than those found and used in the Book of Common Prayer. A number of bishops voting “no” went public with their disagreement with him and said why they were withholding consents.
A majority of The House of Bishops have turned its collective back on The Rev. Thew Forrester. While some 25 bishops have yet to declare their hand, he would need more than that to turn it around.
In June, Anglicanism in North America took a right turn. In Plano, Texas, Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America rose up before several thousand mostly former Episcopalians and announced to the entire world that he was now the archbishop of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America. He told a press conference that the church he would now lead will “reunite a significant portion of our Anglican Church family here in North America.
“We are uniting 700 congregations, (and 28 dioceses) and more importantly committed Anglican believers, in the north (Arctic) and in the south, on the west coast and the east coast. We are oriented toward a hopeful future again. We are not turning back to the hurts of our past. We are moving forward together in Christian mission. The main thing is Jesus Christ.”
Duncan drew a wide net saying that God isn’t just bringing Anglican Christians together, “across the church people are re-embracing Scripture’s authority. Christians are rediscovering the grace of our 2,000 year-old tradition.” At year’s end, Duncan called for the planting and raising up of 1000 churches during his ministry.
July saw the triennial gathering of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Anaheim, California, where Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori acknowledged that there was indeed a crisis in the church. She put her best spin on it by saying “crisis is always a remarkable opportunity. General Convention is always a time of critical decision-making.”
Sex was on the mind of delegates as they gathered near the Disney fantasy-world. Two crucial resolutions – D025 and C056 – passed. The first called for affirming God’s call to gay and lesbian persons in all orders of ministry. The second called for the church to collect and develop “theological resources and liturgies for the blessing of same-gender relationships.” Both the houses of bishops and deputies passed the resolutions by wide margins even though the Archbishop of Canterbury had urged the HOB to reject the measure. His call went unheeded.
One small item stood in the way — Resolution B033, a controversial resolution passed at GC2006, which called on “standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate whose “manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on the communion.”
Following the passage of D025 and C056, Jefferts Schori sent a hurried note off to Dr. Williams assuring him that B033 had not been rescinded and the two resolutions were merely descriptive and not prescriptive.
The Presiding Bishop admitted in her letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury that she views the Communion moratorium on gay and lesbian bishops as merely advisory at best. In defending the passage of D025, she digs a bigger hole for TEC by describing D025 as “more descriptive than prescriptive.” She goes on to say that “Some within our Church may understand Resolution D025 to give Standing Committees…and Bishops with jurisdiction more latitude in consenting to episcopal elections.”
At least 36 bishops were not convinced and they endorsed the “Anaheim Statement” which pledged to honor requests made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the 2008 Lambeth conference, the Primates’ meetings and the Anglican Consultative Council to observe the Windsor Report’s moratoria on same-sex blessings, as well as cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate. They also reaffirmed their commitment to the Anglican Communion covenant process.
Shockwaves continued when it was revealed that the church was in a deep financial hole. Firings began almost immediately at GC2009. A bigger bombshell was dropped however when, in her opening address, the Presiding Bishop declared personal and confessional faith in Jesus Christ to be a heresy, and described Jesus Christ’s death on Calvary as merely “a waypoint” to God’s “greater dream,” and not the endpoint of salvation.
Her musings sent shockwaves throughout the Anglican Communion, sending evangelicals in particular, into apoplectic fits, confirming their worst fears that the woman running the show was a bishop in name only and not a believer. The worse it all got, the clearer it all became. Nobody was in any doubt any more. Global South archbishops winced wondering what alarm bells it would set off in their own countries among Islamic fundamentalists now that TEC had fully ratified sodomy and declared her unbelief.
Other TEC resolution actions seemed milder by comparison. Among the 400 pieces of legislation both houses did pass was a resolution to “consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion.” They also agreed to approve a partnership with the Moravian Church.
Following General Convention, a number of dioceses said they would not permit clergy to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but the die had been cast. There would be no going back.
One of the most liberal dioceses, Massachusetts announced in late November through its bishop Tom Shaw that he would allow clergy to celebrate same-sex marriage ceremonies, including signing marriage certificates.
A number of diocesan elections followed General Convention.
Minnesota placed a lesbian nominee, The Rev. Dr. Bonnie Perry, rector of All Saints’, Chicago, on a short list, but withdrew when it was clear she didn’t have a prayer of winning.
Then lightning struck. A few weeks later, The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, an activist lesbian, was one of two women selected to be bishop-elect of the Diocese of Los Angeles, becoming the second woman elected as Suffragan Bishop, paving the way for an international crisis.
Within hours, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement, surprising many with his speed, saying Glasspool’s election “raises very serious questions not just for The Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.”
In October, The Diocese of South Carolina held a special convention and passed a resolution, at the behest of their bishop Mark Lawrence, to withdraw from “all bodies of governance of TEC that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture and the church’s received doctrine and worship until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions.” Delegates passed a resolution affirming the Ridley Cambridge draft of the covenant.
Many of the orthodox parish priests found the conclusions of the diocese uncongenial and in December, the largest diocesan parish, St. Andrew’s with 1,300 members, went into a 40-day discernment period. On December 18, the church voted overwhelmingly to leave the diocese and join with the emerging Anglican Church of North America. To date the diocese has not reacted, but Lawrence is on record as saying that he will not litigate against fleeing parishes. It remains to be seen what officials at national church headquarters have to say and what pressure they exert on Lawrence.
On October 20, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced a new provision responding to the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church.
The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow those groups to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.
It was a bitter and unexpected blow to Archbishop Rowan Williams as it seemed to put a crimp on 40 years of ARCIC (unity) talks. It also took him by surprise. To date, no one has officially taken up the offer in England or the U.S., but the Traditional Anglican Communion with its Australian-based Archbishop John Hepworth seems ready to accept the offer.
In a strange turn of events, the archbishop got back at the Pontiff when he visited Rome in November. He had a 20-minute meeting with Pope Benedict, which was later described as “cordial”. The Vatican acknowledged that discussions “focused on recent events between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion”.
In a lecture he gave in Rome prior to meeting the Pope, Williams said the ordination of women is a secondary issue that does not amount to much and the Vatican would just have to get used to it. That seems very unlikely. The twin issues of the ordination of women as priests and bishops and Dr. Williams’ liberal attitude to homosexuality remain cutting edge issues that will not go away in the foreseeable future. The ordination of women to the episcopacy in the Church of England will only create greater stumbling blocks and fore traditionalists to this seriously about the Pope’s offer.
On December 18 Canon Kenneth Kearon announced that the final text of The Anglican Communion Covenant had been approved for distribution by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion and was on its way to the 38 Provinces for them to examine and vote on.
“The Covenant represents a further step in these relationships, building on and giving expression to the bonds of affection which shapes our common life,” he wrote.
Within a matter of days, scrutiny of the revised Ridley Cambridge Covenant with a modestly revised Section 4 came under criticism from orthodox and liberals alike. Nobody seems to think it will draw the Anglican Communion together. Few seemed to think The Episcopal Church would even sign off on it. Time will tell.
Whatever the future holds, what ultimately emerged in 2009 was that the Anglican Communion is now permanently fractured and a worldwide realignment already begun will not be turned around now or in the foreseeable future. In the words of the hymn writer “no turning back, no turning back.”